Exploring the biblical theology of Christian egalitarianism

Close this search box.

Paul Trebilco recently delivered a lecture at Durham University entitled “The Letters of John and the Cult of Artemis in Ephesus”. Clinton Arnold believes the “powers” mentioned in the letter to the Ephesians are better understood if we have some understanding of Artemis and her power.[1] Morna Hooker and Daniel Frayer-Griggs each suggest Paul’s reference to fighting wild beasts, mentioned in 1 Corinthians 15:32 (cf. 2 Tim. 4:17–18), may be a reference to Paul’s encounters with hostile devotees of Artemis.[2] Still other scholars believe the heresies addressed in First Timothy may have been influenced by the cult of Artemis. Moreover, the name of the goddess Artemis occurs five times in Acts 19. Considering that some early Christians felt the force of Artemis of Ephesus in some way, it may be helpful to know more about her.

You can support my work for as little as $3 USD a month at Patreon.
Become a Patron!


The ancient travel writer Pausanias remarked that “All cities worship Artemis of Ephesus, and all individuals hold her in honour.”[3] This was not an overstatement. The spread of the cult of Artemis Ephesia throughout the Greek world was extraordinary. By the late Hellenistic period, many cities within the territories ruled by the Greeks had a temple or shrine dedicated to the highly regarded goddess, or to a version of her.[4] However, it was the city of Ephesus alone that had a particularly strong and lasting bond with their goddess.[5]

Artemis of Ephesus was quite unlike Greek goddesses and she had a unique and distinctive appearance.[6] This essay looks at the features of her dress, and at what these features symbolise. But it begins with a brief history of Artemis which helps to explain her importance and power.

The Anatolian Goddess of Ayasolak becomes Artemis of Ephesus

The origin of Artemis and her cult is “shrouded in obscurity”[7] and predates the Ionians settling in southwestern Anatolia around 1050 BCE.[8] Nevertheless, Dieter Knibbe, a foremost archaeologist of ancient Ephesus, suggests the goddess started out as a sacred tree on the southwestern slopes of Mount Ayasolak.[9] Knibbe writes that Artemis began as a “tree goddess and a timeless symbol of fertility.”[10] The earliest statues of the goddess of Ayasolak are thought to have been carved from wood, without detail,[11] but decorated with removable items. There was a custom throughout western Anatolia of dressing and decorating archaic cult statues.[12]

At some unknown point, the Ionians named the indigenous Anatolian goddess after the Greek goddess Artemis. When King Croesus of Lydia conquered Ephesus in around 550 BCE, he promoted the Anatolian, that is, the Ephesian, Artemis “to the position of first-ranking deity”,[13] and he funded the first marble temple built for her. Around the same time, possibly to coincide with the building of the temple, a new cult statue of Artemis was carved by the famous sculptor Endoios.[14] This statue is believed to have looked like an ordinary and unadorned young woman and it was carved from ebony or possibly vinewood. It seems to have survived until at least the first century CE (Pliny, Natural Histories 16.79).

Adapting to political influences and the changing social culture in Ephesus, the goddess and her cult evolved. Like most cults in the Greek world, the cult of Artemis underwent a process of Hellenisation,[15] and some of the mythology and attributes of the Greek Artemis were attributed to the Ephesian Artemis.[16] The removable decorations of Artemis probably changed over time too, but in around 150 BCE, if not before, her attire became somewhat standardised.[17] The earliest representation of this standardised figure that can be dated is found on cistophoric coins minted in Ephesus in 133 BCE.[18] As well as coins, surviving statues show uniformity in how the goddess was represented, her clothing, as well as her person, now being cast in metal or carved in stone.[19] In this standard representation, Artemis typically wears a crown, garments, and accessories that are intricate and rich in symbolism.

Her Crown: Sovereign Patron and Protector of Ephesus

The Regalia of Artemis Ephesia
A few surviving statues and coins show Artemis Ephesia wearing a mural crown that depicts her city’s walls. Other Anatolian goddesses, such as Cybele of Phrygia, and also Agathe Tyche (“Good Fortune”) who was often chosen to be the patron goddess of cities newly founded by Alexander’s successors, also wear a mural crown in some of their depictions. Artemis’s crown symbolised her ability to protect Ephesus and its defences, and it indicates she was a tutelary (or, guardian) deity. Importantly, however, while there are several statues of Artemis wearing a mural crown, “all of these with one exception (now lost . . . ) are restorations.”[20] Other statues depict Artemis wearing a crown that represents her temple. Perhaps this was her more usual crown.

Still other statues depict the goddess wearing a simple polos on her head, sometimes with a veil attached. A polos looks somewhat like an upturned basket and was made by weaving natural fibres together. Greek women had stopped wearing poloi in the Classical period, but it remained a common headdress for goddesses.[21]

Artemis’s crowns symbolised her sovereignty and divinity. She was sovereign over Ephesus and had a unique covenant bond with the city.[22] The goddess was the city’s divine protector and patron and, in return, the Ephesians were guardians of her temple. Her name “Artemis” is thought to derive from the Greek adjective artemēs which means “safe and sound.” Strabo, the ancient geographer, for example, writes, “Artemis has her name from the fact that she makes people artimeas.”[23] The supposed “benefits she confers on others goes a long way towards explaining her popularity in Ephesus.”[24]

Underneath her crown, the goddess’s face has a benign, calm expression, and her hair is usually neatly and simply tied back or hidden. Her face and hair look similar to the face and hair of many statues of pretty young Greco-Roman women and are unremarkable.

Her Zodiacal Garland: “Queen of the Cosmos”

Artemis of Ephesus
All surviving statues of Artemis have several garlands around her neck. The objects in the garlands can vary, but they usually include a strand of acorns under a thick wreath of seeds or nuts.[25] Some statues wear a garland that features symbols of the zodiac.[26] Artemis Ephesia is the only deity of the Greco-Roman world who appropriated the signs of the zodiac as part of her costume and character.[27]

In the Hellenistic age, a cosmological revolution was happening. Ptolemy would write about this new way of looking at the universe in his Tetrabiblos in the second century CE but, already in the Hellenistic period, thinkers were seeing the universe in a new way.[28] They believed that immediately surrounding the earth (which was presumed to be the centre of the universe) there was the large sublunar region, which in turn was surrounded by seven planetary spheres.[29] It was thought “the terrestrial, sublunar realm was sharply separated from the celestial, supralunar realm by an abyss of cosmic space populated by elemental and demonic powers. These powers controlled the terrestrial realm, even as they were controlled by the celestial deities.”[30] This new understanding brought with it a new emphasis on cosmic forces and astrology in religious beliefs. Artemis’s zodiacal garland seems to signify that she possessed authority and power superior to cosmic forces and astrological fate.[31] Accordingly, in one inscription she is called “the Queen of the Cosmos,” in another, she is called a “Heavenly God.”[32]

The Oval Objects on her Midriff: Vitality, Virginity, Fertility?

The Regalia of Artemis Ephesia
Immediately below her garlands is one of the more perplexing features of Artemis’s appearance. She has numerous[33] smooth, oval-shaped, protuberances on her midriff which are interpreted differently by scholars. It was thought by some that these objects were her breasts,[34] but Robert Fleischer has shown that these objects are not part of the goddess’s body.[35] This is clearly seen in statues where Artemis’s skin (her face, neck, hands, toes) and hair are cast in bronze and are dark in colour, but her crown and her clothes, which includes the protuberances, are carved from white marble or cream alabaster.[36]

Similar protuberances have been found on figures of the male god Zeus Labraunda. (See here, and here.) The site of ancient Labraunda is approximately 120 km south of the site of ancient Ephesus. Labraunda and Ephesus were inhabited by Carians before the Ionian invasion. So these oval objects may have been a feature of some Carian deities dating back to the second millennium BCE. Going further back in time, western Anatolia was inhabited by Hittites. Sarah P. Morris suggests the oval objects are leather goatskin pouches called kurša which the Hittites filled with magic charms and fetishes.[37] This is a possibility, but there are other suggestions about what these objects may be.

Knibbe, among others, believes the objects are bulls’ testicles. The relative size (compared with, for example, the acorns) and the shape of the protuberances match the size and shape of bulls’ testicles. Following Gerhard Seiterle,[38] Knibbe writes, “On certain occasions, a series of bulls were offered to the goddess in bloody slaughter and . . . their testicles were fixed on the statue of Artemis.”[39] If these objects are testicles, they probably symbolised the goddess’s vitality. Knibbe believes  “this rite reveals the archaic concept that the power of the goddess was renewed in this way, so that she could in turn strengthen the world of nature . . .”[40] Lynn LiDonnici, following Robert Fleischer, regards many of the arguments supporting the idea of bulls’ testicles to be weak.[41]

Artemis Ephesia

Another suggestion is that the protuberances are bees’ eggs. The objects are the same shape as the eggs of the common bumblebee (Bombus terrestris) and other bees.[42] There is ample evidence that Artemis was associated with bees. Bees and winged “bee-people” feature on the side panels of her skirt. And in the early Roman period, one of her cult statues, known as the “Beautiful Artemis,” was erected between two beehives carved of stone.[43]

Artemis of Ephesus

In the Greek world, bees were thought to reproduce asexually and they became a symbol of chastity. Unlike other goddesses, Artemis Ephesia was considered to be a chaste virgin and she is never associated with a male consort. Furthermore, bees were a symbol of Ephesus and appear on Ephesian coins, such as the tetradrachma minted in the early Hellenistic period.

Artemis of Ephesus

There is no scholarly consensus as to what the protuberances may represent. Yet it is thought by some that, as well as the garlands of seeds and nuts, they are an indication that Artemis was a fertility goddess. In a similar vein, some scholars have assumed that Artemis Ephesia began as an Anatolian mother goddess, or was influenced by such a goddess, particularly Cybele, the Phrygian “Great Mother.”[44] While aspects of the Artemis cult may have been influenced by other Anatolian cults in archaic times, Artemis was distinct from Cybele. Cybele and Artemis had their own separate cults in Ephesus.[45] If Artemis began as a fertility or mother goddess, there is no evidence of this in the Greek and Roman periods. Nevertheless, it is typically thought that the oval objects signify vitality in some way.

Update (May 18 2022): Since writing this article, I’ve seen the suggestion that the ovoid objects represent fresh dates.

Update (October 19 2022): Here is a photo of a statuette of a goddess who worshipped during the reign of the Attalids in Pergamum in Asia Minor (283–133 BCE). Note the apron with ten bumps arranged as a Tetractys, this arrangement is thought by some to have mystical properties. These bumps are almost identical to those on one of the figurines of Zeus of Labraunda. (See here.) The goddess from Pergamum has a polos on her head and wears an ordinary, long chiton. She stands between two lions but with a more natural pose than Artemis. The inscription on the base of the 50 cm tall statuette reads, “The Pergamene Mother of the gods, Nicephoros [honours] his own (or, the beautiful ?) patroness” (Μητέρα θεῶν Π<ερ>γαμηνὴν, Νεικηφόρος <τὴ>ν εἰδίαν προστ̣ά̣τιν).

The Animals on her Dress: “Mistress of Wild Beasts”

Artemis of Ephesus
Artemis wears a long, tight, sheath-like skirt, called an ependytēs, that reaches to her feet. There is a gathered frill at the base of the garment with just her toes visible. This garment is quite unlike that of other goddesses of the Greek world and unlike the short chiton worn by the Greek Artemis. It is more typical of Anatolian gods, as is the rigid, upright stance of the statue, with the arms bent at the elbows at a right angle. Depictions of Artemis on coins show that bands or ribbons (known as fillets) made of unspun, finely carded wool were hung from her wrists.[46] (See here.)

On Artemis Ephesia’s skirt are various protomes (heads or busts) of animals arranged in rows, or tiles. Some of the animals are difficult to identify. Furthermore, while some protomes are of real animals, others are of mythical animals that look terrifying or terrified. Morna Hooker identifies the animals as lions, griffins, horses, bulls, and bees.[47] The goddess often has two lions on each sleeve who are gazing up at her. On some surviving statues, there is a disk behind Artemis’s neck and head, possibly representing the moon, with still more creatures on it.[48] The “Beautiful Artemis” stood between two stags (as well as the two beehives).

In the Iliad (composed circa 800 BCE) the Greek Artemis is referred to as the “Lady (or Mistress) of Wild Beasts” (potnia therōn) (Iliad 21.470). This epithet, and the idea behind it, appears to have been attributed to the Ephesian Artemis during the Hellenistic period. The Ephesian goddess is covered and surrounded by animals and was thought to have power over them.

That Artemis had authority over wild animals may explain the figures of real animals on her clothing, but what about the mythical creatures? Clinton Arnold, in his book Ephesians: Power and Magic, states,

. . . a single common feature may be discerned among all religious diversity in western Asia Minor: people had an extraordinary fear of hostile spiritual ‘powers’. Through their practices and rituals . . . religion and magic claimed to offer relief from this oppressive fear, and even promised means of control over the dreaded demonic realm.[49]

As “Queen of the Cosmos” Artemis of Ephesus supposedly had authority and power over demons and over the demonic realm situated in the cosmic abyss. Thus the creatures “appear to be in a posture of surrender to the great power of the goddess.”[50] Arnold states that the rows of animals “demonstrate the compelling authority [Artemis] was believed to have possessed over all powers since mythical antiquity.”[51]

The power of Artemis Ephesia was invoked in prayers and magic spells by her devotees. (Some aspects of pagan religions and magic were indistinguishable in the Hellenistic period.) Pausanias (not the travel-writer, but the lexicographer) wrote that the magical Ephesia Grammata “seem to have been written discreetly and obscurely on the feet, girdle, and crown of Artemis.”[52] The Ephesia Grammata were six “magic” words with no apparent meaning, yet they were popular and used orally, or in written form, for all kinds of magic spells.[53] No trace of the Ephesia Grammata is visible on any surviving statues of Artemis, however.


The Ephesian Artemis was clothed from head to foot in garments and decorations that signified her power. While retaining some archaic Anatolian features, her appearance primarily signified that she possessed a vital power that included power over cosmic forces and astrological fate, as well as power of wild animals and demons. With this power, Artemis benevolently protected her city of Ephesus for over a millennium. As sovereign, she had a pervasive and potent influence on the daily life of the Ephesians, and they reciprocated by regarding their goddess with devotion and loyalty.

You can support my work for as little as $3 USD a month at Patreon.
Become a Patron!


[1] See Clinton E. Arnold, Ephesians (Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament) (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010); and Ephesians: Power and Magic (Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press, 1989)

[2] Morna D. Hooker, “Artemis of Ephesus,” The Journal of Theological Studies 64.1 (2013), 37–46.
Daniel Frayer-Griggs, “The Beasts at Ephesus and the Cult of Artemis,” Harvard Theological Review 106.4  (2013), 459–477. (This paper can be viewed at Academia.edu.)

[3] Guide to Greece 4.31.8. Pausanias wrote his Guide in the early second century CE, but in this quotation, he was writing about a time before 150 BCE. Quotations from Pausanias’ Guide are taken from Jerome Murphy-O’Connor’s St Paul’s Ephesus: Texts and Archaeology (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2008)

[4] In the Hellenistic period, the original locale of deities became less important, and some gods (e.g., Isis) became universal deities. This is because gods were no longer assumed as being immanent in a terrestrial realm or location, but were increasingly regarded as elevated to a celestial realm. Luther Martin, Hellenistic Religions (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987), 59. This is true for Artemis Ephesia who, nevertheless, maintained a strong bond with her original locale, Ephesus. In Xenophon’s ancient novel Ephesiaca, Artemis is a local, albeit powerful, deity and Isis is the universal deity who keeps the heroine safe when she is away from Ephesus.

[5] There were dozens of gods worshipped in Ephesus during the Hellenistic and Roman periods, but only Artemis held the unique and powerful position as patron of Ephesus.

[6] Stephanie Lynn Budin, Artemis (London: Routledge, 2016), 22.

[7] Paul Trebilco, The Early Christians at Ephesus from Paul to Ignatius (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004, 2007), 19.

[8] Pausanias, Guide to Greece 7.2.6.

[9] From 800 BC onwards, this spot was the site of successive temples devoted to Artemis.

[10] Dieter Knibbe, “Via Sacra Ephesiaca: New Aspects of the Cult of Artemis Ephesia”, Ephesos: Metropolis of Asia, Helmut Koester (ed.) (Valley Forge, PA: Trinity Press International, 1995), 143.
Richard Oster, however, argues that there is simply no evidence in primary sources that associates Artemis Ephesia with fertility. “Ephesus as a Religious Center Under the Principate I: Paganism Before Constantine,” Aufstieg und Niedergang der Römischen Welt II 18.3 (New York: W. de Gruyter, 1990), 1726.
David Braund makes this comment about the Ephesian Artemis not being a fertility goddess.

However, the commonplace notion that Ephesia was a fertility goddess is unsatisfactory, for the notion turns upon Christian polemic which also erroneously characterised the protuberances on her image as a mass of breasts. It has been well observed that in the rest of the tradition there is a deafening silence about fertility in her regard. No doubt her concern to protect did include the assurance of an adequate food supply, but that hardly marks her out as a goddess of fertility.
Braund, Greek Religion and Cults in the Black Sea Region: Goddesses in the Bosporan Kingdom from the Archaic Period to the Byzantine Era (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2018), 130. (A PDF of this book is here.)

[11] Selahattin Erdmegil, Ephesus, transl. Nuket Eraslan (Istanbul: Net Turistik Yayinlar, 1986), 27. Lynn R. LiDonnici writes, “It is likely that the early image was a typical archaic plank-like wooden xoanon.” “The Images of Artemis Ephesia and Greco-Roman Worship: A Reconsideration,” Harvard Theological Review 85.4 (1992), 398.

[12] LiDonnici, “Images of Artemis”, 391.

[13] Knibbe, “Via Sacra Ephesiaca”, 143.

[14] LiDonnici, “Images of Artemis”, 398-99.

[15] The Greeks typically identified and associated foreign gods with their own Greek gods, and they used Greek mythology and other Greek concepts to interpret foreign gods and their cults. This custom, called interpretatio graeca, facilitated the religious syncretism that would be a feature in the Hellenistic period.

[16] The Greek Artemis and Ephesian Artemis share the story that Zeus is their father, Leto is their mother, and Apollo is the twin brother. The goddesses also share the story that they acted as midwife in the delivery of Apollo. (It was thought that gods and goddesses were born as functioning adults.) In Roman times, the Ephesian Artemis was regarded as a midwife, and women in childbirth would call on her for help during childbirth (e.g., Acts of Andrew 25; Apuleias, The Golden Ass 11.2 cf. Plutarch’s Life of Alexander 3.6).

[17] LiDonnici, “Images of Artemis,” 390.

[18] Trebilco, Early Christians at Ephesus, 23.

[19] For this essay I have primarily looked at images of three statues, all carved from white marble, and housed in the Ephesus Museum at Selçuk, Turkey: inv. 712 “Great Artemis”(height 292 cm); inv. 713 “Small Artemis” who is missing her head; and inv. 718, “Beautiful Artemis” (height 174.5cm) who wears a polos crown. These are similar to the statue housed in the Vatican Museum in Rome.
I have also looked at images of a statue, inv. 6278, housed at the National Archaeological Museum at Naples. This statue is almost identical to the statues already mentioned, but the goddess’s skin and hair are cast in bronze and black in colour, and her attire is carved from cream-coloured alabaster. Her colouring is similar to a statue of Artemis Ephesia made from bronze and marble (height 115 cm), inv. 1182, and housed in the Capitoline Museum in Rome. LiDonnici suggests that the dark colour of her skin and hair may be meant to represent the dark wood of the archaic statue. “Images of Artemis,” 392.
These six statues date from between the second century BCE to the second century CE, or they are copies of statues from this time.

[20] LiDonnici, “Images of Artemis,” 395.

[21] F.J. Kluth, “Polos, Crown of a Goddess”, The Role of Women in the Ancient Art of Greecehttp://www.rwaag.org/polos  The polos is “indicative of divinity in Greek iconography . . . the Anatolian goddesses Kubaba and Hepat wear comparable head gear.” Budin, Artemis, 21.

[22] Oster, “Ephesus as a Religious Center,” 1728.

[23] Strabo, Geography 14.1.6.

[24] Murphy-O’Connor, St Paul’s Ephesus, 14.

[25] Budin refers to the wreath as a “wreath of pollination.” If this is correct, it is one of several symbols that associate Artemis with bees. Budin, Artemis, 22.

[26] The zodiacal garland may be a first-century BCE or CE innovation. Fleischer, however, believes it was a regular part of her adornment in the early Hellenistic period. Artemis von Ephesos, 70–72.

[27] Clinton E. Arnold, Ephesians: Power and Magic (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 21.

[28] Writing in the mid-first century CE, Pliny the Elder summarises the new concept of the cosmos in his Natural History 2.4 (6). People in Greek and Near Eastern cultures had previously thought that the earth was a flat disc with the heavens arched above it and the underworld below it.

[29] The area of the supposed rotation of Saturn around the earth occupied the most distant planetary sphere. The rotation of the moon around the earth occupied the closest sphere, with the rotations of Mercury, Venus, the Sun, Mars and Jupiter in between.

[30] Martin, Hellenistic Religions, 8.

[31] Arnold, Ephesians (Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament) (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010), 21.

[32] Richard E. Oster, “The Ephesian Artemis as an Opponent of Early Christianity,” Jahrbuch für Antike und Christentum 19 (1976), 40. The goddess Isis, who became the most popular goddess of the late Hellenistic and Roman periods, was also considered to be a heavenly queen who governed the elements, the stars, and the planets. M.J. Vermaseren, “Hellenistic Religions,” Historia Religionum: Handbook for the History of Religions, Vol 1. C. Jouco Bleeker and Geo Widengren (eds) (Leiden: Brill, 1969), 506.

[33] The number of these objects varies from statue to statue, but the usual number is roughly between fifteen to twenty-five.

[34] LiDonnici maintains the objects, influenced by the breastfeeding iconography of Isis, may have been regarded as breasts in the Roman period, and possibly earlier, but not with a sense of fertility. Rather, she believes they indicate that Artemis was the sustainer, nourisher, and protector of Ephesus. LiDonnici, “Images of Artemis,” 404–408.

[35] See Robert Fleischer, Artemis von Ephesos und verwandte Kultstatuen aus Anatolien und Syrien (Leiden: Brill, 1973), 74–88.

[36] Bulbous amber pendants, dating from the Geometric period (900–700 BCE), have been found in archaeological excavations of the temple site of ancient Ephesus. These amber pendants resemble the shape and size of the oval objects and may well have adorned an ancient xoanon of the Ephesian goddess. Anton Bammer, “A Peripteros of the Geometric Period in the Artemision of Ephesus,” Anatolian Studies 40 (1990), 152, 153, 157. [Photographs of these pendants are shown on this non-English webpage here.]

[37] See Sarah P. Morris, “The Prehistoric Background to Artemis Ephesia: A Solution to the Enigma of her ‘Breasts’?” Der Kosmos der Artemis, Ulrike Muss (ed.) (Wien: Österreichisches Archӓologisches Institut, 2001), 135–151.

[38] See Gerhard Seiterle, “Artemis—die große Göttin von Ephesus,” Antike Welt 10 (1979), 3–16.

[39] Knibbe , “Via Sacra Ephesiaca,” 142.

[40] Knibbe, “Via Sacra Ephesiaca,” 142.

[41] LiDonnici, “Images of Artemis,” 395.

[42] In ancient times, the bees of Anatolia were known for their good honey production and non-aggressive behaviour. Honey bees were even exported from Anatolia. Anon. “Turkish Delight: Ancient Israelites Import Honeybees,” Biblical Archaeology Review 36.6 (Nov/Dec 2010)

[43] Inv. 718, Ephesus Museum.

[44] Nicole Loraux has cautioned against attributing the origins of goddesses on a hypothesised Great Goddess, as it can “obscure our understanding of the ways in which these figures met the needs of individuals and cities at specific points in antiquity.” Nicole Loraux, “What is a Goddess?” A History of Women, Pauline Schmitt Pantel (ed.) Arthur Goldhammer (transl.) (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1992), 29; quoted by LiDonnici, “Images of Artemis,” 389.
Budin notes, “Lynn Roller has argued convincingly that the goddess of Ephesos cannot be identified with the Anatolian Meter (“Mother”) or Kybele.” Artemis, 21.

[45] “The cult of Cybele was present in Ephesus for a long period of time (evidence exists of its presence in the fifth century BC and also in the late Hellenistic period, and times in between). But the archaeological evidence clearly depicts a Cybele different from Artemis even if not totally unrelated to her. . . . There is no evidence of Artemis and Cybele combined or associated in a cult at Ephesus . . .” Rick Strelan, Paul, Artemis and the Jews in Ephesus (New York: Walter de Gruyter, 1996), 90.

[46] Cecilie Brøns, Gods and Garments: Textiles in Greek Sanctuaries in the 7th to the 1st Centuries BC (Oxford and Havertown: Oxbow Books, 2016) (Google Books)

[47] Morna D. Hooker, “Artemis of Ephesus”, The Journal of Theological Studies 64.1 (2013), 44. Fleischer notes that the animals are of Greek origin rather than being Near Eastern or Anatolian. Artemis von Ephesos, 98.

[48] Artemis, along with Hercate and especially Selene, were all regarded as lunar goddesses. Selene was sometimes identified with Artemis.

[49] Arnold, Power and Magic, 167.

[50] Arnold, Ephesians, 32.

[51] Arnold, Power and Magic, 21. (Italics added.)

[52] Pausanias, quoted by Eustathius, in his Commentary on Homer’s Odyssey 19.247. Quoted in Arnold, Power and Magic, 23

[53] Fritz Graf, “Ephesia Grammata”, Brill’s New Pauly. Antiquity volumes edited by Hubert Cancik and Helmuth Schneider. Brill Online (2014).

Images of Artemis

1. Alabaster and bronze statue of Artemis wearing a mural crown. 2nd century CE. National Museum of Naples, inv. 6278. The head, hands and feet are a modern restoration. (Wikimedia) The dark bronze may have been intended to mimic the ebony colour of the wooden statue of Artemis carved by Endoios.
2. “Beautiful Artemis” wearing a polos. 1st century CE. Ephesus Museum at Selçuk, Turkey, inv. 718. (Wikimedia)
3. “Great Artemis.” 1st century CE. Ephesus Museum at Selçuk, Turkey, inv. 712. (Wikimedia)
4. These bull’s testicles in a butcher shop window resemble the size and shape of the oval-shaped objects on Artemis’s midriff.
5. Ephesian Tetradrachma circa 380–295 BCE with the bee symbol of Ephesus.
6. An above-ground nest of the common bumblebee Bombus terrestris. It shows adults, larvae, eggs, and honeypots made from wax, all in a nest surrounded by leaves, grass and moss. The shape of the eggs match the shape of the bumps on Artemis’s chest. (Wikimedia)
7. Marble and bronze copy of a 2nd-century BCE original. Capitoline Museum. Photographer: Jean-Po Grandmont (Wikimedia)

More Images of Artemis

See footnote 19 for links to more photographs, including close-ups, of statues of Artemis. I also have several photos and drawings of Artemis on my Pinterest page, here.
Still more photographs of the goddess are shown on a Russian webpage, here.
Coins depicting Artemis in her temple are on the Macquarie University website. (Click on the coins to enlarge.)
Coins depicting Anatolian goddesses (and one Syrian goddess) in the same pose as Artemis Ephesia, here.
A gold pendant of Potnia Theron (mistress of the animals) with strong similarities to Artemis. This pendant is dated very early: the 7th century BC. Image at metmuseum.org.

117-138 AD Silver Cistophorus Rev. DIANA EPHESIA. Cult statue of Artemis Ephesia

Silver Cistophorus (117–138 AD) showing Artemis in her temple flanked by stags.
The text reads DIANA EPHESIA.
Source: Macquarie University.

Works Cited

Ancient Sources

Eustathius, Commentary on Homer’s Odyssey 19.247. In Clinton Arnold, Ephesians: Power and Magic (Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press, 1989)

Pausanias, Guide to Greece. In Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, St Paul’s Ephesus: Texts and Archaeology (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2008)

Pliny the Elder, Natural History. John Bostock and H. T. Riley (trans.) (London, 1855) at Perseus.
2.4: <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.02.0137%3Abook%3D2%3Achapter%3D4> (accessed May 2016)
16.79: <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.02.0137%3Abook%3D16%3Achapter%3D79>

Strabo, Geography. In Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, St Paul’s Ephesus: Texts and Archaeology (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2008)

Modern Sources

Anonymous staff writer, “Turkish Delight: Ancient Israelites Import Honeybees”, Biblical Archaeology Review 36. 6, (Nov/Dec 2010) <http://members.bib-arch.org/publication.asp?PubID=BSBA&Volume=36&Issue=06&ArticleID=17> (accessed May 2016)

Arnold, Clinton E., Ephesians (Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament) (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010)

____________ Ephesians: Power and Magic (Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press, 1989)

Bammer, Anton “A Peripteros of the Geometric Period in the Artemision of Ephesus”, Anatolian Studies 40 (1990), 137–160.

Budin, Stephanie Lynn, Artemis (London: Routledge, 2016)

Brøns, Cecilie, Gods and Garments: Textiles in Greek Sanctuaries in the 7th to the 1st Centuries BC (Oxford and Havertown: Oxbow Books, 2016) (Google Books)

Fleischer, Robert, Artemis von Ephesos und verwandte Kultstatuen aus Anatolien und Syrien (Leiden: Brill, 1973)

Graf, Fritz, “Ephesia Grammata”, Brill’s New Pauly. Antiquity volumes edited by Hubert Cancik and Helmuth Schneider. Brill Online, (2014). <http://referenceworks.brillonline.com/entries/brill-s-new-pauly/ephesia-grammata-e331410> (accessed May 2016)

Hooker, Morna D., “Artemis of Ephesus”, The Journal of Theological Studies 64.1 (2013), 37–46.

Kluth, Frederick J., “Polos, Crown of a Goddess”, The Role of Women in the Ancient Art of Greece.  <http://www.rwaag.org/polos>  (accessed May 2016)

Knibbe, Dieter “Via Sacra Ephesiaca: New Aspects of the Cult of Artemis Ephesia”, Ephesos: Metropolis of Asia, Helmut Koester (ed.) (Valley Forge, PA: Trinity Press International, 1995)

LiDonnici, Lynn R., “The Images of Artemis Ephesia and Greco-Roman Worship: A Reconsideration”, Harvard Theological Review 85.4 (1992), 389–411.

Loraux, Nicole, “What is a Goddess?” A History of Women: From Ancient Goddesses to Christian Saints, Pauline Schmitt Pantel (ed.) Arthur Goldhammer (transl.) (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1992), 11–44.

Martin, Luther H., Hellenistic Religions: An Introduction (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987)

Morris, Sarah P., “The Prehistoric Background to Artemis Ephesia: A Solution to the Enigma of her ‘Breasts’?”, Der Kosmos der Artemis , Ulricke Muss (ed) (Wien: Österreichisches Archӓologisches Institut, 2001)

Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome, St Paul’s Ephesus: Texts and Archaeology (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2008)

Oster, Richard E. “Ephesus as a Religious Center Under the Principate I: Paganism Before Constantine”, Aufstieg und Niedergang der Römischen Welt II 18.3 (New York: de Gruyter, 1990), 1661–1728.

____________ “The Ephesian Artemis as an Opponent of Early Christianity”, Jahrbuch für Antike und Christentum 19 (1976), 24–44.

Rogers, Guy MacLean. Mysteries of Artemis of Ephesos: Cult, Polis, and Change in the Graeco-Roman World (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2012)

Seiterle, Gerhard, “Artemis—die Große Göttin von Ephesus”, Antike Welt 10 (1979), 3–16.

Strelan, Paul, Artemis and the Jews in Ephesus (New York: de Gruyter, 1996)

Trebilco, Paul, The Early Christians at Ephesus from Paul to Ignatius (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2004, 2007)

Vermaseren, M.J., “Hellenistic Religions”, Historia Religionum: Handbook for the History of Religions, Vol 1. C. Jouco Bleeker and Geo Widengren (eds) (Leiden: Brill, 1969), 495–532.

Postscript: December 26, 2023
Chrysostom and the Wooden Statue of Artemis

Ulrike Muss relates a legend involving Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople, and the famous wooden statue of Artemis.

When John Chrysostom stayed in Ephesus in 401 CE, he worked hard to prohibit the continuing practice of pagan cult at the Artemision by stripping the cult statue of Artemis down to the xoanon, i.e., they robbed the divine image of its jewelry and allowed it to be burned. Even if this event cannot be confirmed historically, the tradition suggests, at the very least, that the temple was finally closed at the beginning of the fifth century and the cult ceased.
Muss, “The Artemision at Ephesos in Early Christian Times,” Early Christianity, Volume 6; Ephesus: Early Christian Communities in a Pluriform Urban Context (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2016): 293–312, 309. (Academia.edu)

Postscript: April 3, 2020
Clay Figures Found at Akragas

Archaic clay figurines of a seated goddess (ca 520–500 BCE), found on the site of the ancient Greek city Akragas, seem to have necklaces that somewhat resemble those of the Ephesian Artemis.

Artemis of Ephesus necklaces breasts

Case 50 in the Archaeological Museum of Agrigento (September 2012)
Photo by Zde (Source: Wikimedia)
Shared under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International.
More images of clay goddesses from Akragas can be viewed here.

Explore more

1 Timothy 2:12 in Context: Artemis of Ephesus 
The Prominence of Women in the Cults of Ephesus
Sandra Glahn Debunks Myths About Artemis
Chastity, Salvation, and 1 Timothy 2:15
Questions about how to interpret and implement 1 Timothy 2:12
The Church at Smyrna and Her Women
All my articles on 1 Timothy 2 are here.

22 thoughts on “The Regalia of Artemis Ephesia

  1. Excellent research, Marg!

    1. Thanks, Obadiah.

  2. Very interesting Margaret and well referenced too. I didn’t realise the close connection with wild animals. It’s interesting that she is also associated with childbirth. It hints at what things were considered ‘natural’ and belong to the natural world, which is closely related to the sublunar world. We can’t assume what is natural/unnatural to us was natural/unnatural to the ancients. It speaks of cosmology that we perhaps should think of when reading the NT letters to the churches in Asia Minor-Ephesians, Colossians and Revelation. Thanks for the stimulating read.

    1. Thanks, Lyn.

      By the way, have you come across hard evidence that the priestesses or female attendants of Artemis were called melissae (“bees”)?

      1. No I haven’t. It was a new one for me. You could try to do a search in the TLG and in the inscriptions (PHI Greek inscriptions) for melissae and see what happens.

  3. Has any linguist tried to find the magic words by reading the animal tiles similar to reading Egyprtian hieroglyphics?

    1. The “magic” words of the Ephesia Grammata are: askion, kataskion, lix, tetrax, damnameneus, aisia. They are nonsensical words, much like abracadabra is a made-up word.

      I have more about the Ephesia Grammata in endnote 10 in this post: https://margmowczko.com/equality-and-gender-issues/1-timothy-212-in-context-2/

  4. I just did a search of the PHI Greek inscriptions and found 1 reference in a epitaph of a woman (Ephesus, undated). It looks to me as if it was the husband who was in charge of αἱ μέλισσαι τῆς θεοῦ ‘the bees of the gods? It could be referring back to the imperial cult?
    IEph 2109; JÖAI 53, 94, no. 17; **Peek, JÖAI 57, 1986-1987, 108-110 (part 1, ll. 2-4, 10-12); SEG 37, 908.
    Things are never as straightforward as we might at first imagine. More research is needed (as always!!)

    1. Thanks for doing that, Lyn!

      I’ve come across the idea of melissae a few times, but never with supporting evidence. This inscription is interesting. What a pity it is undated.

      1. That’s ok. You have me intrigued now. In Liddell, Scott and Jones http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/morph?l=melissh&la=greek#lexicon the first meaning of melissae is ‘bee’ but the second meaning is
        2. to the priestesses of Delphi, Pi.P.4.60; of Demeter and Artemis, Sch.Pi. l.c., Porphory. Antr.18; of Cybele, Did. ap. Lact. Inst.1.22.

        So it seems it could refer to any priestess, mostly of goddesses, but if its referring to the Delphi priestesses then they are priestesses to a god. This may relate to the idea of purity- as you describe. You want your priestess pure. So our gentleman in IEph 2109 would seem to be in charge of the priestesses(if I’m reading it correctly; inscriptions are such a challenge .)

        1. I’m annoyed at myself for not checking the LSJ. Doh!

  5. Thanks for this. A lot of work for a blog post—are you publishing this elsewhere?

    And how do you see it affecting our reading of e.g. 1 Timothy? Is Artemis offering a model of female self-sufficiency?

    1. Hi Ian,

      I’ve published this essay on Academia.edu, but not elsewhere.

      I personally can’t see an obvious correlation between the cult of Artemis and aspects of the heresy in Ephesus. Rather, I believe the heresy was a kind of pre-gnostic or syncretistic heresy that perhaps may have incorporated some elements of Artemis’s cult.

      I see clearer connections between the Ephesian heresy and the Gospel of the Egyptians and the Acts of Paul and Thecla, etc, especially in regards to forbidding marriage and in regards to childbirth. (I wrote about this here.)

      As for female self-sufficiency: there are quite a few strong women mentioned in several of the apocryphal Acts (including the Acts of Paul and Thecla). I suspect 1 Timothy 2:12 may have been in reference to one particular strong woman in Ephesus who was not unlike “Jezebel” of Thyatira.

      As I’m sure you know, goddesses became very popular in the late Hellenistic period. The popularity of Isis, for example rivalled that of any male god, but I can’t see that the popularity of goddesses and their cults emboldened women, as some suggest.

      I also don’t think the Ephesian myth of the Amazons had much of an effect on Ephesian women. (I wrote about this here.) The founding myth of Androcles (a man) seemed to have been much more celebrated by first and second century Ephesians.

      I wrote this essay out of personal interest and because I think there’s a lot of misinformation about Artemis being spread by egalitarians which doesn’t help our cause.

      1. Thanks Marg that’s really helpful.

  6. Thank you for sharing your knowledge.

    Do you know this thesis: https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/33528589.pdf
    I see several parallels with 1Tim2 in the final conclusion on page 269.

    1. Thanks for sharing the paper, Peter. I look forward to reading it more carefully.

      I agree with Dr Leger’s statements on page 269 except for the description of “fertility goddess”:
      “She was the fierce huntress and potnia theron, honoured as such with votives of animals (both mythical and natural), hunters’ equipment like bows and arrows and depictions of the mastering of animals on various artefacts. She also was the fertility goddess, protecting both mother and child. This is illustrated with rites of passages as well as with votives offered to this deity, which were more along the lines of clothing items, from the actual garments to the jewellery that adorned the clothing.”

      From my own ongoing observations, I believe Artemis of Ephesus was quite unlike the usual fertility goddesses. But she was a midwife. There is a credible line of thought that 1 Timothy 2:15 CSB was written with Artemis’s role as midwife in mind. I have a different, preferred backstory to this verse however: https://margmowczko.com/chastity-salvation-1-timothy-215/

      But I will try and find time to read her thesis and see why Dr Leger does believe the Ephesian Artemis was a fertility goddess. Much of the ancient world is still a mystery and I don’t want to be pedantic about the attributes of Artemis of Ephesus.

  7. https://shakko.ru/1390977.html?rfrom=shakko_kitsune
    ‘And this fashion for naming Artemis of Ephesus “many-breasted” went from late antique Christian authors, Blessed Jerome, Minuncius Felix, and so on. And you need to know one thing about these authors: they were very fond of denouncing the Roman Empire and its depravity. Therefore, the association of these mysterious things with breasts is most likely their professional deformation as propagandists.
    This is from one of your notes, above. With all the conflicting opinions, this makes sense to me.
    What do you think?
    Thanks so much for your time and work!

    1. Hello Deidre, Polymast (“Many-breasted”) is how gods with these bumps are sometimes described, even Zeus Labraunda, because the bumps do look a bit like breasts.

      In his commentary on Ephesians, Jerome (died 420) called Artemis “Diana” and wrote, “He [Paul] wrote to the Ephesians who worshipped Diana. Not the huntress who holds the bow and is girded, but that multi-breasted Diana which the Greeks call πoλυμαστις, so that, of course, on the basis of the statue itself they might also falsely assert that she is the nurse of all beasts and living beings.” (Heine’s translation)

      Minucius Felix (died 250) mentions the looks of several gods including the Greek and Ephesian Artemises who he also calls “Diana”: “What are the very forms and appearances (of the gods)? Do they not argue the contemptible and disgraceful characters of your gods? … Diana sometimes is a huntress, with her robe girded up high; and as the Ephesian she has many and fruitful breasts” (Chapter 21 in this Source)

      Scholar Philip Harland notes that “although church fathers such as Jerome and Minucius Felix later tended to generalize about the “multi-breasted” Artemis (Minucius Felix, Octavius 21.5; Jerome, Commentary on the Epistle to Ephesus, proem), this characterization in late antiquity arose less from common perceptions among worshippers of this goddess and more from Christian propaganda aimed at presenting “paganism” as ridiculous or bizarre. (Source)

  8. […] Several statues stood in the temple, including a large cult statue of the goddess Artemis. Approximately four hundred statues and figurines of her still survive today. These show the goddess wearing an elaborate costume that features a crown resembling her temple, various real and mythical animals on her skirt (lions, griffins, horses, bulls, and bees), garlands around her neck, and numerous bumps on her midriff. These bumps are interpreted differently by scholars. Some have thought they were breasts, others suggest they may be bull’s testicles or bee’s eggs.[2] (More on the costume of Artemis here.) […]

  9. […] The Regalia of Artemis Ephesia (1 Tim. 2:9) […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe to Marg's Blog

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.


Join Marg's Patreon

Would you like to support my ministry of encouraging mutuality and equality between men and women in the church and in marriage?